A Swedish View of Batavia in 1783-4: Hornstedt
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A Swedish View of Batavia in 1783-4: Hornstedt's Letters - article ; n°1 ; vol.37, pg 247-262


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17 Pages


Archipel - Année 1989 - Volume 37 - Numéro 1 - Pages 247-262
16 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



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Published 01 January 1989
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Ann Kumar
A Swedish View of Batavia in 1783-4: Hornstedt's Letters
In: Archipel. Volume 37, 1989. pp. 247-262.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Kumar Ann. A Swedish View of Batavia in 1783-4: Hornstedt's Letters. In: Archipel. Volume 37, 1989. pp. 247-262.
doi : 10.3406/arch.1989.2574
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/arch_0044-8613_1989_num_37_1_2574CHINOISE PRÉSENCES
A Swedish View of Batavia in 1783-4
Hornstedt' s Letters
1758. Clas His Fredrik mother Hornstedt was Charlotta U) was Ell and born his in father, Linkoping at that on time 10th town February secre
tary and later councillor and mayor, was Olof Hornstedt. Both his father
and grandfather represented Linkoping in different sessions of the Swe
dish parliament, his father in 1769. Clas was educated first by private tutor
and then spent four years at primary school before attending
gymnasium from 1774 to 1777. He then went to Uppsala university, taking
the usual theological examination in 1780 and the Philosophy Candidates
examination in December 1781. He was particularly interested in natural
science and botany and during his university years made a trip to Lapp-
marken collecting herbaceous plants and birds. He subsequently journeyed
as far as St. Petersburg. After nearly four years of C.P. Thunberg's lectu
res on anatomy, medicine, and natural science, Hornstedt defended his di
ssertation on 24 November 1782.
On the 15th of December he left Uppsala for the Indies, on Thunberg's
recommendation, to classify the collection of the newly-founded Batavian
Society for the Arts and Sciences, an opportunity he owed to a well-
established link between Sweden's outstanding natural scientists and the
Dutch world of learning. As a young man, Linnaeus (2) had travelled to Lei- 248
den to meet Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1739), the «praeceptor totius Euro-
pae», who was among the first to recognise his remarkable potential. Thanks
to Boerhaave's patronage Linnaeus spent two very happy and profitable
years at Hartekamp, a country estate between Haarlem and Leiden, whose
owner, the wealthy banker George Clifford, had established a botanical and
zoological garden. Linnaeus refused Boerhaave's offer to arrange a tropi
cal expedition for him on the grounds that the heat would be intolerable,
but his student Carl Peter Thunberg (3) entered the service of the Dutch
East India Company and travelled extensively under its patronage, visi
ting the Cape of Good Hope, Java, Japan (where he compiled the classic
Flora Japonica, published in 1784) and Ceylon. After nine years abroad
he returned home and in 1784 was appointed Professor of Botany at Upps
ala, succeeding the younger Linnaeus, a post which he held until his death
in 1828 at the age of 85.
With Thunberg's patronage, it is not surprising that Hornstedt was gene
rously treated : he received free passage on the ship Sophia Magdalena,
and when he arrived in Batavia, was provided with free board, 15 rijks-
daalder per month from the Governor-General (W.A. Alting) and 20 from the Batavian Society for Arts and Sciences. His patron at
the Society was the President, J.C.M Radermacher (4). He also had a fur
ther 20 rijksdaalder a month from his stipend from the Royal Swedish Aca
demy of Science (pp. 25b and 41a). The monthly allowance from the Bata
vian Society for Arts and Sciences was eventually doubled, and he was elec
ted Medelid (Associate Member) of the Society on 24 March 1784.
Hornstedt arrived at Anyer on the coast of Banten on 24th July 1783,
and hired a Javanese prau and 20 Bantenese to take him to Batavia, where
Radermacher initially found him lodging with a wealthy Frenchman by the
name of La Clé, the secretary of the Batavian Society. He later moved into
a room especially prepared for him in the Batavian Society's building, a
healthy and convenient location for his work of cataloguing the Society's
significant collection of natural specimens sent in from many parts of Asia
(though Hornstedt remarks «one has been more collector than expert»; there
were sometimes 20 to 30 examples of the same species : 30b).
He noted early in the piece : «It is not permitted for Europeans in the
East to have anyone white... in their service, everyone must be served by
slaves. After I supported myself a few weeks in this climate I found it neces
sary to buy myself one, in order to look after me» (marginal note, p. 27).
He paid 800 rijksdaalder for his slave, commenting that «One prepares a
bill of sale here for a slave, just as we would for a state acreage or house»,
and changed the slave's «long Javanese name» to Ali in this bill (5). Ali used
to run like a professional runner in front of the carriage provided for Hornst
edt, calling out to the pedestrians to watch out, since the sandy surface 249
muffled the sound of the horses' hoofs (p.31b).
In Ali's company, Hornstedt made a number of journeys out of Bata
via : along the north coast of Java (a «troublesome journey»), escorted by
some Javanese soldiers, in November 1783; a trip by sea to the islands off
Java's south west coast in April 1784; and a visit to the Tangerang district
to see the coffee, sugar, pepper and indigo plantations from 29 May to 16
July 1784. On the 22 of July he left Batavia to return to Europe.
After spending some time in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Caen and Paris,
he arrived home in early 1786 and after sitting his final examinations took
out his medical degree on 7 September. His subsequent career was active
and distinguished : election to a Berlin learned society (Gesellschaft Natur-
forschender Freunde), presentation to the King of Sweden (Gustavus III),
whose nature-cabinet at Drottningholm he later organized; royal appoint
ment as Lecturer in Medicine in his home town; election as Fellow of the
Royal Academy; physician to the royal fleet during the war (against Russ
ia) of 1788-90 and again (under Gustavus IV, who joined the anti-Napoleonic
alliance) in 1796; Headmaster of the Linkôping Gymnasium and member
of the Uppsala University Council.
During his year in Batavia Hornstedt wrote a number of letters to his
patron Thunberg. In his letter of 26 August 1783 (pp. 26-31) he describes
Batavia to Thunberg as competing with the cities of Europe in beauty,
though the site is low and swampy, chosen more for its advantages in the
transport of goods than for its healthy situation : in a later letter (1 March
1784, p. 49b) he claims that the annual mortality in the «bad monsoon» was
5,000, a figure which is based on his own observations (6). He notes the
wide, straight streets with their spacious, level sand-covered roads for the
passage of wagons, sandstone footpaths and pleasant and much-needed
shade from plantings of evergreen trees. The houses, he says, are of brick,
with the rooms built around a courtyard, so that when the doors and win
dows (large sliding windows, «in the English style») are open a through
draught is created, as necessary in this hot climate as the stove is in «our
cold countries». He says that the rich use a lot of large mirrors in the lower
rooms, but the mercury does not last long, running together and leaving
long streaks like worm tracks after a few years. He lists the most note
worthy buildings : the new Dutch church (7), consecrated in 1736, the old
Kasteelskerk and the Lutheran church built in 1749 (8); the two Portuguese
churches (9); the beautiful townhall (10); the widows house (n), spinning
house (12), town printery (13), chemist (14\ post office (15\ public inn, and
large number of warehouses. He estimates the European population of Bata
via as close to 1500 (16\ and says that the walled city is surrounded by quar
ters and villages that are called «campongs». Outside the Rotterdam gate,
for instance, there is a quarter of about 700 native Christians with Portu- 250
guese names. This is a reference to the mardijkers, ex-slaves of Indian ori
gin, from Bengal, Arakan, Coromandel and Malabar, and Christian rel
igion (17). The mardijker community flourished during the 17th century but
in the 18th their number was first stationary and then in decline. In 1762
there were still an estimated 2000 men who could bear arms, but the num
ber of mardijker schutterij (citizen soldier) companies declined markedly
thereafter : the last was abolished in 1808. Hornstedt also notes a Moorish
quarter of 760 houses (18), and another 18 kampungs around the city, named
after the nationality of their inhabitants - Buginese, Balinese, Ambonese,
Butonese, Malay, Mandarese. The Muslim kampungs have, he says, a total
population of 68,000 (19). Hornstedt notes also the markets, «called Pasars»
which take place in Batavia's many squares : the Pasar ikan, where one
can buy 20 to 30 different types of live fish, of which few are known in
Europe, and the Pasar Senen and Pasar Tanabank (Tanah Bang) where
one finds on Mondays an enormous variety of fruit and vegetables.
Outside the city, he says, are found mosques, pagodas, gunpowder works,
artillery factories, arak distilleries, sugar mills, and slaughter-houses. About
a quarter of a mile distant is the port, «considered as the most splendid
in the world» and capable of accommodating all the fleets of the world. The
Dutch send out about 30 ships (2°) bringing what the European community
needs from Holland and sending back pepper, nutmeg, coffee, sugar, rice,
arak, indigo, and so on. Batavia also has a strong inland trade and a trade
with Chinese junks and other ships, «their numbers fluctuating between
5 and 600» that come from Tonkin, Siam, Palembang, Trengganu, Cambod
ia, Banjarmasin, Persia, Ambon, Makassar, Ternate, Tidore, Burma, Sum-
bawa, Melaka, Padang, Bali, and the Javanese coast, to trade with her cit
izens. In this trade slaves from nearby islands are the most expensive item.
About 4000 are imported (annually?) and the island of Bali provides them
at a very good price (21\
In contrast to the distance which separated him from the other ethnic
groups of extra-mural Batavia, Hornstedt was often in contact with the
Chinese. He says that 22,000 Chinese lived in 1300 houses in Kampung
Cina (22), outside the Diest gate (letter of 26 August 1783, p. 29b). It is
worth noting here that the Chinese had not always been concentrated in
an extra-mural ethnic neighbourhood : before the Chinese massacre and
uprising of 1740 they were scattered throughout the walled city, and Kam
pung Cina was not established until 1741, south of the Sirih- or Lijnwa-
tiersgracht, under the surveillance of the Dutch artillery.
On 12 September 1783 Hornstedt was invited to attend a Chinese cele
bration (see letter of 14 September, pages 32-5). He was taken by someone
who from his name, Captain Joseph Guglielmie [sic] de Maranzeto, may have
been a mardijker officer. They arrived at Kampung Cina at 8 p.m. and were 251
met by a Chinese by the name of Tuan Thomas, who spoke better Dutch
than Hornstedt himself. Tuan Thomas explained that his brother, a stone
mason, had been «alderman» for the past year and now that his term of
office was finished he was holding the celebration to give thanks to the god
Joss for the good fortune of the past year. They travelled a short way (l/16th
of a Swedish mile) from Kampung Cina and arrived at a temple
courtyard (23) where tables were set out and all the stone-masons settled
down to eat. A lot of other Chinese and Javanese had come to watch the
celebrations. They went through the courtyard to a room containing three
tables, one higher than the others, with images of gods. Tuan Thomas knelt
beside another Chinese in mandarin dress; they leant to the left and then
abased their faces to the ground, doing this five times. They then lit four
incense sticks which were put down on a plate in front of the stone-masons'
Joss <24). During this ceremony a «terrifying music on Chinese harps» was
played, with much banging on metal instruments of «nearly the same shape
and melody as our frying-pans». The ritual was repeated in the form
for the whole night until sunrise. Hornstedt asked for permission to draw
the altars and this was freely given : Tuan Thomas asked him not to forget
the beautiful cloth hanging beneath the closest table, which was embroide
red in gold with a «terribly grim face with large moustaches and six horns
on his forehead».
The table furthest back was the smallest and highest, on this sat Joss
and his servant «Sattan». The good god's face was painted white with red
cheeks and blue cheek-bones, and the bad one's black (25). On the opposite
side of the good god sat four smaller servant gods and two large candles;
by his feet were three porcelain cups filled with arak. The second smallest
table was somewhat longer and wider. In the middle of it stood a covered
porcelain incense pot flanked by two «unshapely figures» resembling «some
grim animal's head made of tree roots» beside which burnt two large candl
es. On each end of the table were two large porcelain dishes, one with Chi
nese flowers and the other with ripe fruit. The third table was the lowest
and largest. On it sat the stone-masons' own Joss, with two servant gods
on each side, and beside these 12 tea-cups filled with candied sugar and
fruit. In front of this Joss stood an incense bowl of Japanese cups in which
the burning incense sticks were set down in the ash of the burnt-out ones
left as a sacred relic. On either side of the incense bowls stood another made
of porcelain and filled with ash. In front of these were three porcelain cups
with tea (without milk or sugar, Hornstedt notes), and in front of these,
five cups with tjau, a drink made of rice and arak. At the ends of the table
lay four stones used for divination, with one convex and one concave side :
when they are thrown in front of Joss the way in which they fall predicts 252
good or ill (26). On either side of this last table stood a pyramid with candles.
Outside the altar-room in the courtyard four tables were set in a square
for the stone-masons' meal. Hornstedt records that over 30 courses were
served without satisfying him : at midnight he was still hungry and moreo
ver nauseated by the spices used in the Chinese food. But after the ban
quet they were served with a variety of fruit, which he liked.
During the entire meal an entertainment was provided on a specially
raised stage - though the Chinese and Javanese seemed to derive more
amusement from seeing the Europeans eat, with more than a hundred
«Indians» standing around the table with the utmost attention. First there
was a «symphony» and then a Chinese girl sang a solo. When she went off,
another girl came in in rather an elaborate costume with four white wings
on her back and accompanied by four girls carrying fans. The girl who had
sung the solo came back and joined the group, which was accompanied by
a «clanging» orchestra of drums and a type of trumpet. Then eight black
costumed performers came in, four with swords and four with wooden sta
ves. They danced and capered and did some somersaults, and pointed the
wooden staves at all four points of the compass. Seven of the eight then
exited, leaving one to demonstrate his individual expertise; when he was
tired he was replaced by another. Now another man came in and with unbel
ievable skill balanced two staves thrown in the air. Back came two men
and staged a battle : the loser retreated and was replaced by another, and
so on. While this was going on the singer began a «pantomine» : Hornstedt
did not like her singing and did not hear much difference between one song
and the next. He also says that half the Chinese did not understand what
she was singing : when he asked them what the piece was about, he always
got the answer that they couldn't hear. Hornstedt comments rather unfa
vourably on Chinese theatre as having little regard for probability and pre
dicts that it will not develop from its immature state because the Chinese
never budge from their ancestral customs. He and his friends left at 3 a.m.,
but the festivities continued until around 6 a.m., when the Chinese went
to their work without any sleep (pp. 32-5).
On another occasion Hornstedt bribed himself into a Chinese
comedy (27), and also into the inside room, where the actresses change, «a
place Europeans are never allowed into». He saw their musical instruments,
weapons, clothes, etc., and addressed himself to a young actress, who read
her role out of a manuscript which Hornstedt persuaded her to sell him
(He comments that when one talks to women «on the right side», one can
get almost anything one wants from them; though he later says that she
spoke quite fast Malay, which he couldn't always understand, but she
understood his rupiahs much better). He says that these comedies are now
translated into Malay by a Chinese he got to know well, and that he intends 253
to translate the manuscript from Malay into Swedish himself (letter of 4
November 1783, pp. 42b-43a).
The third Chinese gathering which Hornstedt describes was the burial
of one of the leaders of the community (letter of 10th December 1783, pp.
44b-47b). He was Gouw Puansieu (or Poansoeij) whom Hornstedt descri
bes as «leader of the Chinese Council of Java», appointed Chinese Lieute
nant by the Hoge Regeering (28). The funeral procession, in which there
were 2000 Chinese, left Kampung Cina for the Chinese cemetery (29) on
7th December at 9 a.m. The procession (3°) was headed by a mandarin,
followed by Chinese pyramids, towers, lanterns and portchaises made of
bamboo (31) covered with painted Chinese paper, so thin that the slightest
breeze tore it. Next was carried the dead man's portrait, in a glass
frame (32). Then fruit of various kinds and more paper constructions; fo
llowed by a colossal image, dragged along on wheels, about 30 feet high
and thick in proportion, made of bamboo and cane covered with painted
paper : the face was large and ruddy with five big eyes, two above the nor
mal ones and the fifth in the middle of the forehead (33). Next a mounted
Chinese (34) and after him some musicians, followed by more lamps and lan
terns, fans, and streamers on long bamboo poles, everything painted and
gilded. Next came the corpse in a black wooden coffin carried by 40
men (35). Beside the coffin walked the dead man's two sons (36\ bowed down
with covered faces. The coffin was followed by 12 priests («bonzers») wea
ring grey coats that looked from a distance like lutheran priests' vest
ment (37). They were all beardless and wore black caps. The rest of the pro
cession walked in no special order but all were clad in white, some wearing
white cloths around their heads and some wearing caps of fine raffia (38).
The body was put down on a mound a little distance from the grave and
the dead man's mother, wife, and daughters came forward (39), followed
by 20 (professional? (4°)) female mourners, crying and lamenting and throw
ing themselves on the ground. The dead man was laid in the grave, which
had an east-west orientation, with his face to the east (41). In front of the
grave the deceased relatives and the mourners, all dressed in white, sat
on the ground. They continued their vigorous lamentation while music
played, breaking off when they were served with food and drink. About
15 paces from the grave a bamboo structure was erected, over a table on
which were paper and brushes for the priest to write «passes» for the
dead (42\ and a bowl with travel money (43). Small tables were placed
around with offerings of fruit, as well as a goat and a pig on poles.
As the morning proceded and the day became hotter Hornstedt was pla
gued by a strong thirst. He saw a bowl of grapes on a table and began to
eat them. A Chinese shouted in Malay : «God! How do you dare eat of the 254
dead's food!» to which Hornstedt replied «Because we were such good
friends» commenting that if he had shown any fear he would surely have
been pursued further, but as the Chinese in Java are held fairly well in check
by the Dutch they would not dare to break out if they were met with any
Hornstedt then went into the pagoda where the Chinese council - the
Captain and the Lieutenants - were gathered (44\ He was served with
arak, preserved ginger and mangoes. Mats were spread with dishes offish,
meat, chicken boiled and fried, boiled rice, many types of hue («que») or
pastries, fruit and preserves. The pagoda was bare except for images of
Joss and his servant «Settang». There were no priests present : Hornstedt
conjectures that they would have been too timid to come in in the presence
of the Chinese council, since «bonzers or priests are regarded by the Chi
nese as worse than barbarians, who otherwise are the most contemptible
of people» (45). After their meal, Hornstedt and the Chinese council went
to the grave to witness the paper decorations and the huge image from
the procession being burnt. The Chinese present ate and drank of the food
served on the ground all day long.
Hornstedt concludes his account of the funeral by remarking that the
widow of the dead man should cry for forty days since according to Chi
nese belief the soul of the dead remains in the house for this amount of
time. It is also necessary to burn silvered paper, to burn incense, and to
keep fruit on a table for the dead for the same period. He remarks that
the funeral he has described is exceptionaly costly because of the enormous
amount of food - for perhaps a thousand people over a whole day - and
paper decorations provided : poor Chinese are buried without much cer
emony in a yellow coffin, perhaps with someone walking in front with incense.
He concludes once again with the comment that the Chinese «never change
their ancestors' customs at all in foreign lands» (46).
On 29 May 1784 Hornstedt set out on a Whitsuntide visit to the pro
perty of the secretary of the Batavian Society for Arts and Sciences, La
Clé (letter of 20 June 1784, pp. 62b-65a). They proceded via Kampung Cina
and Anke, where the Company had a post, and then travelled up the Cidani
river, which rises in the mountains of Banten and enters the sea at Untung
Jawa : the Mokervaart canal joined it to the Anke, which flowed west from
Batavia. The party travelled in a large covered sampan which was pulled
by 16 slaves : Hornstedt comments that he had never travelled in so much
comfort in Java. Mrs La Clé served a meal of 16 plates to the four ladies
and four gentlemen on board. They arrived at Tangerang, a fortified post
of the Company on the border with Banten, and went to the La Clé's stone
house, which was only a few hundred paces from the river, along which 255
lay other estates and stone houses belonging to Company officials and free
citizens of Batavia. Hornstedt describes the estate as having the most beaut
iful coffee and pepper plantation in Java, «I dare say». He gives a descrip
tion of the coffee and pepper plants (pp. 63b-64a). After staying here for
a few weeks hunting and shooting (a wild pig) and collecting plants, Horns
tedt returned with the party to Batavia. Hornstedt himself made a detour
to inspect one of the 20 arak distilleries (he does not say which one) that
lay around the city.
He says that only the Chinese operate the arak distilleries : it is an inven
tion brought from China, which they enjoy warm with every meal and fes
tivity, drunk out of small porcelain cups. He describes the complex process
of fermentation and distillation by which arak is made : one begins by boil
ing the rice and adding a mixture of Chinese sugar, aniseed, and rice flour.
The mixture is twice left to ferment for 24 hours, after which river water
is added, and when a third fermentation is completed, tuak or coconut juice
is added and the mixture is put into smaller clay vessels called tampayang
(tempayans) for a further of 48 hours. Then it is all poured
into a large pan for the process of distillation. The product of the first dis
tillation is called tsieuw and it is this which the Chinese drink, rather than
the stronger arak which is the product of the second distillation. There are
different qualities of arak : arak api kapala, first quality arak, which is
made only for the government to export to Holland, and which it is strongly
forbidden to make and sell without permission; and two qualities for local
consumption, arak api, and «Company arak», called by the Chinese tuj-
sio-tsieuw, made by mixing 2/3 arak api with 1/3 tsieuw, which is used in
households in Java «like snapps with us». Hornstedt concludes with some
calculations regarding the financing of the arak distilleries and concludes
that the profits are small for the capital invested, though a large number
of people gain the livelihood from making arak, and the viability of the sugar
plantations and mills is substantially dependent upon it (47).
Clearly Hornstedt is no very expert witness on Batavia : better descrip
tions of the city and fuller statistics are available elsewhere. This is not
surprising, when we remember that he was a foreigner, primarily preoc
cupied with his scientific work, who spent only a year in Batavia and would
have arrived with little background knowledge or linguistic equipment. The
interest of his account is just in this lack of preconception, particularly in
his material on the Chinese community and its relationship with the Dutch.
We see clearly how close together the two communities still were, four deca
des after the expulsion of the Chinese to a separate quarter outside the
walls. Hornstedt' s experience reveals that the Chinese were middlemen
in the fields of science and belles-lettres as well as in commerce. The Dag-
bok contains a list of medicinal plants identified with Chinese characters